Eskom chief executive Brian Dames. Photo: Leon Nicholas.
Eskom chief executive Brian Dames. Photo: Leon Nicholas.

Eskom: SA has ‘nuclear safety culture’

Time of article published Mar 14, 2011

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South Africa was “well-equipped” to have nuclear power stations and had a “nuclear safety culture”, Eskom said on Monday.

“Clearly we would be looking at what actually happened in Japan... but South Africa has a nuclear safety culture because of Koeberg station,” Eskom spokesman for nuclear power Tony Stott told Sapa.

“Nuclear power is certainly complex... It requires management depending on the level of risk, but the level of risk in nuclear is low,” Stott said.

“How many people are killed on the roads every day compared to people killed in the nuclear industry... obviously if something does go wrong in nuclear the consequences are enormous.”

Stott said most of the nuclear reactors at power stations in Japan shut themselves down as they were supposed to, following Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami.

Only the cooling systems were compromised, he said.

“They used boiling water reactors, whereas we use pressurised water reactors. About 70 percent of all new nuclear stations in the world use the pressurised system,” he said.

Stott said Eskom was familiar with pressurised water reactors and would want to stick with that design for future nuclear power stations in the country.

“We also know that if we do build more, we would buy modern technology, and certainly the events that happened would be looked at and taken into account to see what technology should be used.”

The government was expected to make a decision on South Africa's integrated resource Plan (IRP) for electricity by the end of the month, Stott said.

The plan was expected to reveal how the target for new nuclear power capacity would be met by 2023. The IRP envisaged about 9600

megawatts of nuclear power, which would take approximately six power stations to generate, depending on the size of their reactors, Stott said.

He said the government's announcement would answer whether more power stations were planned for the country, and whether Eskom or another provider would build them.

“It is expensive to build nuclear power stations, but once it is operating, the fuel expense is not as high. In the longer term, in life cycle costs, they are competitive,” Stott said.

“Only once government has announced its decisions will the board meet to decide if they are happy from a safety point of view, from an investment point of view,” he said.

Environmental group Earthlife SA on Monday said nuclear power was not only risky but also complex, dangerous and expensive.

“We cannot discount the risk that exists for the Koeberg power station. Only last year, 91 workers at Koeberg were exposed to excess radiation,” spokesman Tristen Taylor said in a statement.

“Earthlife Africa Jhb calls upon the South African government to abandon its commitment to nuclear power. The government can do so now, before it signs contracts for the purchases of new nuclear reactors, and make investments in clean and secure renewable energy.”

Taylor said a non-nuclear, low-carbon future was possible and safe.

“There is no need to run the risks made so tragically clear by the current and evolving situation in Japan.” - Sapa

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